Time for a slightly lighter post, I thought, and so here’s a topic I’ve often pondered and I bet a lot of you over a certain age have too: grey hair. Or, to dye or not to dye?
I didn’t really think about it a great deal until a lunch party I attended a few years ago. Until then, I had of course been aware of grey hairs arriving: my first when I was writing my undergraduate thesis, a few more during the Ph.D, and then a whole crop of them during some exceedingly stressful years a while back. I considered my grey hairs to be visible proof of having survived these times. I used to teasingly tell my children that you have to earn your grey hairs with good deeds, and that the reason older people become silvery is that they’ve become more spiritual. I noticed with some interest that my own grey hairs have a different texture from their darker neighbours: wiry and thicker. As my hair has become grey-er, it’s also become fuller and wavier, which I like. The only sadness has been that I used to always find bright red hairs on my head – which I consider to be a lovely link to my red-haired aunt – and that rarely happens now. C’est la vie!
And then I went to a friend’s fiftieth birthday party at a restaurant. I didn’t know any of the other women, apart from my friend. There were 15 of us or so. At some point during the meal, looking around the table, I suddenly realised that I was the only woman there who didn’t dye her hair. (They, on the other hand, had probably realised this the moment I’d stepped into the room!) Since then, I’ve often noticed I’m the only woman my age with (visibly) grey hair. The Dafter has been asked on more than one occasion if I’m her granny — I evidently look far too old to be the mother of a nearly-13-year-old. I’ve begun to realise that not dyeing one’s hair – at least in Aberdeen at the start of the 21st century – is Making A Statement.
I have nothing against women dyeing their hair – most of my friends do, and I want them to be happy and feel good about themselves. But because it’s so unusual to be visibly grey at 50 in this time and place, it seems that I’m becoming ever more outrageous by the day. I occasionally see another grey-haired woman my age, and it always cheers me. It’s like spotting a flock of waxwings – it doesn’t happen often, but you know it’s possible.
Some would say this is a very trivial topic. But of course it isn’t: it touches deep beliefs about what women should and shouldn’t do and be. I had a conversation about going grey with a (similarly un-retouched) woman in Oregon, who said that she’d been on holiday in Paris and had felt very judged by the elegantly coiffed and dyed Parisiennes. Even her husband began to notice the hostile glares. Now, if that’s true, it’s very interesting. It reminded me of my friend who tried the experiment of not shaving her legs in Texas in the early 80s. She was nearly publically lynched. Why should we few renegades be such a threat? Fortunately I haven’t felt hostility about my grey hair – pity, sometimes, perhaps, but not hostility.
I don’t mind. I’m not about to change who I am, and the older I get the less I care about what other people think. My biggest worry is that if I go completely grey, my hair will be totally mad and sticking out in all directions as if I’ve been electrocuted. It could be interesting!